Also Known As: Chlamydia, Clamydia trachomatis
Chlamydia infection (from the Greek, χλαμύδα meaning "cloak") is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in humans caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. The term Chlamydia infection can also refer to infection caused by any species belonging to the bacterial family Chlamydiaceae. C. trachomatis is found only in humans. Chlamydia is a major infectious cause of human genital and eye disease. Chlamydia infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections worldwide; it is estimated that about 1 million individuals in the United States are infected with chlamydia.
C. trachomatis is naturally found living only inside human cells. Chlamydia can be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth. Between half and three-quarters of all women who have a chlamydia infection of the cervix (cervicitis) have no symptoms and do not know that they are infected. In men, infection of the urethra (urethritis) is usually symptomatic, causing a white discharge from the penis with or without pain on urinating (dysuria). Occasionally, the condition spreads to the upper genital tract in women (causing pelvic inflammatory disease) or to the epididymis in men (causing epididymitis). If untreated, chlamydial infections can cause serious reproductive and other health problems with both short-term and long-term consequences.
Chlamydia conjunctivitis or trachoma is a common cause of blindness worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that it accounted for 15% of blindness cases in 1995, but only 3.6% in 2002.
Chlamydial infection of the neck of the womb (cervicitis) is a sexually transmitted infection which is asymptomatic for about 50-70% of women infected with the disease. The infection can be passed through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Of those who have an asymptomatic infection that is not detected by their doctor, approximately half will develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a generic term for infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries. PID can cause scarring inside the reproductive organs, which can later cause serious complications, including chronic pelvic pain, difficulty becoming pregnant, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and other dangerous complications of pregnancy.
Chlamydia is known as the "Silent Epidemic" because in women, it may not cause any symptoms in 75% of cases, and can linger for months or years before being discovered. Symptoms that may occur include unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain in the abdomen, painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia), fever, painful urination or the urge to urinate more frequently than usual (urinary urgency).
In men, chlamydia shows symptoms of infectious urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) in about 50% of cases. Symptoms that may occur include: a painful or burning sensation when urinating, an unusual discharge from the penis, swollen or tender testicles, or fever. Discharge, or the purulent exudate, is generally less viscous and lighter in color than for gonorrhea. If left untreated, it is possible for chlamydia in men to spread to the testicles causing epididymitis, which in rare cases can cause sterility if not treated within 6 to 8 weeks. Chlamydia is also a potential cause of prostatitis in men, although the exact relevance in prostatitis is difficult to ascertain due to possible contamination from urethritis.
Chlamydia conjunctivitis or trachoma was once the most important cause of blindness worldwide, but its role diminished from 15% of blindness cases by trachoma in 1995 to 3.6% in 2002. The infection can be spread from eye to eye by fingers, shared towels or cloths, coughing and sneezing and eye-seeking flies. Newborns can also develop chlamydia eye infection through childbirth (see below). Using the SAFE strategy (acronym for surgery for in-growing or in-turned lashes, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvements), the World Health Organisation aims for the global elimination of trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020 initiative).
Chlamydia may also cause reactive arthritis (reiter's syndrome) - the triad of arthritis, conjunctivitis and urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) - especially in young men. About 15,000 men develop reactive arthritis due to chlamydia infection each year in the U.S., and about 5,000 are permanently affected by it. It can occur in both sexes, though is more common in men.
As many as half of all infants born to mothers with chlamydia will be born with the disease. Chlamydia can affect infants by causing spontaneous abortion; premature birth; conjunctivitis, which may lead to blindness; and pneumonia. Conjunctivitis due to chlamydia typically occurs one week after birth (compared with chemical causes (within hours) or gonorrhea (2–5 days)).